Can­dle­light vigil com­mem­o­rates vic­tims of crime

Guest speaker shares pow­er­ful, per­sonal story

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARDSON arichard­son@somd­news.com

In recog­ni­tion of Na­tional Crime Vic­tims’ Rights Week, dozens of com­mu­nity mem­bers banded to­gether Mon­day night in sup­port of the Cen­ter for Abused Per­sons’ 23rd an­nual can­dle­light vigil at the Charles County Cir­cuit Court­house in La Plata.

Af­ter An­nette Gil­bert-Jackson, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, gave her open­ing re­marks, Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) pro­claimed the week to be Crime Vic­tims’ Rights Week in the county. This year’s event was high­lighted by guest speaker Toki Smith, whose pow­er­ful story cap­ti­vated the au­di­ence as she shared her har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as a vic­tim of sex­ual as­sault.

Charles County State’s At­tor­ney An­thony Cov­ing­ton (D) and Charles

County Sher­iff Troy Berry (D), whose agencies of­ten part­ner with the Cen­ter for Abused Per­sons to help sup­port vic­tims through­out the legal process, were among those who spoke.

“It is not easy be­ing the vic­tim of a crime … it takes in­cred­i­ble strength,” said Cov­ing­ton, who em­pha­sized a need for more resources on a state and fed­eral level.

He en­cour­aged those in at­ten­dance to con­tact leg­is­la­tors so that vic­tims will be­come a “higher pri­or­ity,” not­ing a lim­ited amount of fund­ing for gov­ern­ment-pro­vided ser­vices.

“Let’s make this our cause,” he con­tin­ued. “Crime vic­tims in this coun­try need our sup­port.”

Berry echoed the same sen­ti­ments in his re­marks.

“Some peo­ple in the com­mu­nity may feel they don’t have a voice,” Berry said. “We have to get out there and spread this word … you don’t have to suf­fer in si­lence.”

Af­ter Berry spoke, Smith shared her story. As a young girl, she told the au­di­ence, she suf­fered sex­ual abuse at the hands of her father and un­cle, and had to move in and out with other fam­ily mem­bers she did not know well. She was raped again years later. Af­ter strug­gling to cope with the many trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences she had en­dured through­out her life, the sup­port of trusted friends helped her come for­ward to author­i­ties and stand up to her abusers.

“It is truly only by grace that I am still stand­ing here,” she said. “… I had to be more than my cir­cum­stances. I just could not let them win.”

“My thought was, if I’ve been vi­o­lated all these times, what is it that I can’t do,” she added.

To­day, Smith, hap­pily mar­ried to her hus­band of 22 years and a mother of three, works as a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker af­ter re­tir­ing from the U.S. Navy. She lives in Wel­come and is a two-time self-pub­lished au­thor. Dur­ing her youth she escaped her trou­bles and found so­lace in read­ing fic­tion, and drew from her own life ex­pe­ri­ences to give her char­ac­ters their per­son­al­ity. She said she re­fused to let her ter­ri­fy­ing child­hood de­fine who she was.

“I never knew why I was moved around so much,” she said. “I just thought no one wanted me.”

I had de­vel­oped a “faulty logic that taught me that ev­ery­thing was my fault,” she said. “... You are not to blame. For­give your­self.”

Smith said she shared her story to help en­cour­age vic­tims to speak out, and to ex­plain how im­por­tant it is for vic­tims to have the un­yield­ing sup­port of fam­ily and close friends, some­one to just lis­ten and val­i­date their feel­ings.

“It helps them be stronger the next time that they tell it,” she said. “Ev­ery time they can tell some­one and not get the back­lash, they’ll be stronger and they’ll trust their own voice. It’s usu­ally that we don’t trust our own voice, but you know your story. You know that you know it, and we can’t let peo­ple tell us that we don’t.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW RICHARDSON

Com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered at the cir­cuit court­house in La Plata for the Cen­ter of Abused Per­sons’ 23rd an­nual can­dle­light vigil in recog­ni­tion of Na­tional Crime Vic­tims’ Rights Week.

Guest speaker Toki Smith speaks with Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy af­ter shar­ing her pow­er­ful story dur­ing the can­de­light vigil.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARDSON

Guest speaker Toki Smith shares her pow­er­ful story dur­ing the can­de­light vigil.

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